Annika Sorenstam was in Phoenix at 8:40 a.m., getting ready to make history. Of course she didnt know it yet. But in the space of less than five hours, she would do something that no woman has ever done ' she would shoot 59 in an LPGA tournament.
Of course, she had to share the spotlight that week with Tiger ' doesnt she always? Tiger Woods was busy doing something spectacular himself that week. He birdied the 18th hole at Bay Hill after first conking a spectator, and won by a single stroke over Phil Mickelson. You cant get much more dramatic than that. Unless, of course, you pick that week to uncork a 59.
Sorenstam was paired at the Standard Register Ping (now the Safeway Ping) that day with her sister, Charlotta, and Meg Mallon. Want a little spookiness in this story? Charlotta and Mallon were also in the same threesome with Se Ri Pak when Pak shot a 61 at the Farr Kroger Classic in 1998 ' then an LPGA record.
Want a little more spookiness? Charlotta missed the cut that Friday and Annika spent the evening of her magic 59 at the nearby home of Charlottas, preparing dinner and consoling little sis. None of this going out and turning the town upside down to celebrate.
And yet more spookiness? The girls father, Tom, just happened to pick this week to travel from his home in Sweden to be in the gallery. He telephoned his wife with an update every two holes ' at a cost of $12 a minute.
But there she was at 8:40, starting on hole No. 10, lining her drive down the middle on the 534-yard par 5. She hit her second shot short of the green, wedged up to seven feet. Her putt dropped in over the lip, and she had it ' birdie.
Of course, that wasnt too unusual that week at Moon Valley Country Club. Birdies werent too rare on the par-5 hole. She birdied No. 11 ' her second, a 157-yard par 3, with a nine-foot putt, and it still didnt get much attention.
When she rolled in a 30-footer for her third birdie in a row, a few people perked up. This could obviously be a good day, they thought. And more heads began to jerk when she birdied her fourth in a row after hitting a sand wedge to four feet.
By the time she had gotten around to her eighth ' incidentally, birdieing every single hole ' she had the attention of every spectator on the course, as well as every player. Number 16 ' her seventh ' was a difficult 414-yarder, but she made it look easy with a driver, 4-wood to 10 feet, and another bullseye putt. The eighth she got with an 18-footer. Hey - 8-under through eight holes is guaranteed to get you noticed, even if youre Annika Sorenstam.
The ninth, at 401 yards, was her first snafu. She could do no better than make par.
I actually told my caddie on the ninth tee, I need a par now because I am so nervous. I need to just come down to where I know I belong, and then we go from there, said Sorenstam.
I mean, I hit the middle of the green, and I wasnt aggressive at all. I needed a par. I was just ' I was so nervous at the time. It was the only par I wished for.
But there she was on her 10th ' the courses first hole ' with another birdie, a nine-foot putt.
It was unfortunate that she was now playing the front side. ESPN had laid cable on the final nine, not the first nine. That meant that the cameraman had to shoot Sorenstams final holes with a hand-held camera, racing in to the production truck after each hole to get the film on the air. By now the news had reached past the golf course and was beginning to trickle out that Annika had an excellent chance of breaking 60.
She ripped off four more consecutive birdies ' her 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th ' before finally hitting the wall. She now was 12-under through 13, needing only one more to get to the magic 13-under. Surely she would get it.
But she missed a nine-footer at her 14th, a 20-footer at her 15th and a 30-footer at the 16th, and suddenly Sorenstam had just two holes left. Her 17th, though, was a 476-yard par 5, and for Annika not to make birdie would have been, well, shocking.
She hit her drive in the fairway ' as she had done every hole. She reached the green with a 7-wood, the ball dying 25 feet from the hole. She had no trouble in two-putting, giving her the Holy Grail of 13-under.
On her 18th, she was a little weak-kneed with the prospect of shooting ' 58? She teed her 4-wood on the 383-yarder and absolutely crushed it, again reached the fairway. A sand wedge was next and she lobbed up a rainbow that died just nine feet away.
Knees shaking now, she settled in over the putt ' and missed by the narrowest of margins when it creased the lip of the cup. But it was a simple tap-in, and there she had it ' the first 59 ever by a woman.
Sorenstam had done it, played almost perfectly, hitting all the fairways, all the greens, and needing only 25 putts. Eleven putts were from nine feet or longer.
That day Ill never forget, Annika said later. I mean, it was obviously a career round.
Actually, I didnt hit the ball very well on the range. But then I just got off to such an incredible start. I didnt do anything differently. I didnt eat anything different. I just know its possible ' and thats what I learned from that day.
Unfortunately, that was only Friday, and she had to play two more days. And unfortunately, Pak sizzled the next two days, shooting a 63 and then a 67.
Sorenstam, though, had just enough. She shot 69-68 and won by two strokes. Game, set, and match to Mrs. 59.